LONDON - Former British prime minister John Major, who often campaigned for family values, yesterday shattered his squeaky clean, even dull, image by admitting to a four-year affair with a colleague.
Major's affair with former cabinet minister Edwina Currie, which took place before Major replaced Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in 1990, was revealed in excerpts from his ex-lover's parliamentary diaries in The Times newspaper.
"It is the one event in my life of which I am most ashamed and I have long feared it would be made public," The Times quoted Major as saying in a statement. He added his wife Norma had known about the affair for years and had forgiven him. Major, 59, was prime minister from 1990-97.
Currie, 57, was formerly Edwina Cohen, the Liverpool born daughter of an Orthodox Jewish tailor and his wife -though for years she was outspoken about her lack of enthusiasm for her background. "I haven't functioned as a Jewish person for a quarter of a century," she said in a 1994 interview. "My family wouldn't accept my husband because he wasn't Jewish and they wanted nothing to do with me. Since my father died in 1975, I have become closer to my mother and brother, but I still don't share their (Orthodox) lifestyle." Friends say she has since moved closer to her Jewish heritage. She has visited Israel and was an admirer of the late Yitzhak Rabin. At least one of her two daughters spent time on a kibbutz in Israel.
That 1994 interview was one of several marking publication of a startling novel Currie wrote where sex came in every variety, including with strawberries and cream. "A Parliamentary Affair" told the story of a feisty Tory MP who juggled a constituency, a husband and teenage daughter - and a steamy extra marital liaison. She insisted it was pure fiction, set on a composite background, and no one disbelieved her.
The diaries, now being serialized in the Times, chart the progress of the relationship from 1984 to 1988 and how it began to wane as Major's political star rose. His Conservative government was dogged by accusations of sleaze and the resignations of philandering parliamentarians that torpedoed his "back to basics" campaign to reinstil family values. In one week alone in January 1994, three government members were forced to resign over sex and sleaze scandals.
But Major himself came through as squeaky clean to the point of being labeled dull. News of the affair came as a complete surprise even to close associates of Major. Bernard Ingham, who was Thatcher's and then Major's powerful press secretary, said the first he had heard of the romance was when television stations began calling him to get his reaction to the Times' revelations.
Currie, who shot to fame in 1988 as junior health minister under Thatcher when she questioned whether eggs contained salmonella in a scandal that forced her to quit and nearly broke the poultry industry, was a complete contrast to Major. Also married at the time of the affair, Currie said she ended the relationship in 1988 because of Major's rapid political rise.
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